In recent weeks, two of Britain’s biggest energy suppliers announced price rises for gas. The price of gas has risen by 122% since 2004, and in the process pushed one in five households into energy poverty – that is, spending 10% or more of their income on energy.
Despite the rising costs of energy, we keep using more of it. Between 1970 and 2009, household energy use crept up by 18%. More and more people have loft insulation and double glazing, but the population has risen too. More of us have energy efficient appliances, but we have more appliances to plug in. We also like our houses to be warmer, and there are more single-person households where an entire house is warmed for just one occupant.
This is a serious waste of money in a world of energy shortages, as well as a major source of carbon emissions. So how do we reverse this trend?
- We can start by a national retrofitting project. It’s usually the poorest who spend the most on energy, living in substandard housing that leaks heat. While there’s plenty of support and no end of schemes and incentives, it’s not easy to persuade people to spend the initial cash outlay. Sheffield City Council has led the way by aiming to give everyone free insulation, an idea that a number of other councils have picked up.
- We can fix the energy ratings system that keeps tinkering with the way ratings are calculated rather than raising standards.
- There should be minimum standards for rented properties.
- The sooner we roll out smart meters, the better. The target is currently to have smart meters fitted in every home by 2020.
- Smarter appliances that can read demand will also help, switching themselves off during peak times.
- Public awareness of energy saving is still low, despite the large savings that households could be making as energy prices continue to rise. Unfortunately, groups like the Energy Saving Trust have seen their budgets slashed by the government’s anti-quango drive. Funding should be restored and increased, with the priority placed on local energy agencies that will run community centred projects rather than broad advertising based initiatives.